Choosing an Attorney to Represent Me: What Do I Look For?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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When someone is confronted by a legal problem, the situation can be quite stressful because many people rarely deal with the legal system. Anytime an individual is faced with a legal problem there is usually much at stake, including freedom, compensation for injuries or even a parent’s relationship with their child. Since the stakes are so high and the legal system such an unfamiliar environment, it is critical to choose the right attorney to guide you through the legal process. While almost all attorneys are professional and committed to the well-being of their clients, there are certain factors to consider that will promote a strong and effective attorney-client relationship.  

One of the most important characteristics of a potential attorney is his or her personality and demeanor. Whether you are filing for divorce, seeking compensation for catastrophic injuries or fighting to stay out of jail, almost any legal matter is accompanied by a great deal of stress and anxiety.

The attorney you choose should be amicable so you have a reasonable degree of confidence that he or she will be able to put you at ease as you navigate the legal process. You may have to discuss very personal information, so you need to feel you can be open and candid.

There also needs to be a good fit between your personality and that  of your attorney. The attorney-client relationship is one that requires close interaction and cooperation, so personalities that clash can have a devastating impact on the professional relationship.

When interviewing potential attorneys, it is also important to consider an attorney’s approach to cases; for example, is he casual, antagonistic, or business-minded?  His approach should be consistent with the way you wish to have your case handled. The attorney-client relationship usually lasts many months and may last years, making it crucial to choose an attorney you like and with whom you feel comfortable.

In addition, it is important to seek out an attorney who will make your case a priority. Though attorneys are generally very conscientious, they can get busy or have too heavy a caseload. This means that a client’s case can get relegated to a lower priority or that the attorney is too busy to respond to your questions.

Realistically, an attorney will give you the highest level of attention when you are a prospective client – before you hire the attorney, you are potential new business, which provides the firm with an incentive to return your calls promptly and treat you as though your legal matter is a top priority.

Therefore, if the firm is slow to return your calls at this stage, you can expect that your questions will be even less of a priority once you retain the firm. Some helpful indicators of the responsiveness of an attorney or law firm to its clients include the following:

(1)  Does the attorney take the time to get on the phone with you as opposed to a staff member? 

(2)  Are you left waiting for long periods without assistance when you visit the office? 

(3)  Does the attorney constantly allow your consultation to be interrupted by phone calls? 

(4)  Is the attorney reasonably familiar with the facts of your case when you meet with him? 

While considering the questions above will provide a fair idea of how you will be treated, you must also consider whether the attorney’s background and experience suits your needs. While an attorney with more experience is often preferable, a highly experienced attorney will tend to be more expensive.

It is important to consider the level of sophistication involved in your legal matter. If you have a relatively simple legal issue, you may be able obtain an attorney for a lower hourly fee, but you should still look into the attorney.

It is always a good idea to check with the state bar or an online legal directory to confirm an attorney’s credentials and that he does not have a record of discipline.

Some legal websites may provide detailed information about the attorney, including educational background, professional honors and achievements, legal teaching, publications, representative clients and even testimonials. When you initially meet with the attorney, it is a good idea to ask him about his specific experience with cases similar to your case.

The outcome of your legal matter may have a profound impact on your future. This makes it very important to choose an attorney who you are comfortable working with and has the demeanor, expertise and commitment to meet your needs. Careful consideration now can avoid problems later.

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